Salvation Army red kettle donations drop in Macon

jmink@macon.comJanuary 4, 2013 

The holidays were not jolly for a local nonprofit organization. Now, the Salvation Army in Macon is asking for community support as it struggles to make up a $15,000 drop in Christmas kettle donations.

The traditional red kettles collected $147,000 in Macon, a sharp decline from the previous year. Kettle donations make up about 20 percent of the annual budget, which funds the organization’s food pantries, shelter, clothing, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, senior and youth programs, and assistance to fire victims, among other services, said Peggy Steele, development director for The Salvation Army in Macon.

“Now, we’ve got to double down our efforts,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to have to close our doors tomorrow, but it will hurt us in our reserves for anything that comes up.”

The organization is asking people to help offset the shortfall through donations. Many residents will receive letters asking for assistance, and Steele asks that they contribute anything they can. The organization also needs food donations, especially as food prices increase, Steele said.

“Every little penny helps,” she said. “Anyone who could give an extra $5, $10 to help us make up that deficit, people who maybe have never donated to The Salvation Army before but are planning to make a donation for their tax purposes, please consider The Salvation Army.”

In addition to a decrease in kettle donations, funds from the organization’s Christmas mail appeals also were down. And The Salvation Army in Macon had to buy presents for 1,227 children who were not adopted through the Angel Tree program.

Each year, the names of children from low-income families are placed on trees throughout the community, and residents are asked to sponsor those children for Christmas. This past year, 2,425 children in Macon qualified -- that’s 800 more than the previous year -- and about half of them were not adopted.

“What we do in that situation, we in The Salvation Army provide something. So, that’s an expense on our end. ... That also cuts into our budget,” Steele said. “And, usually it’s not the kind of gift they would get when an individual adopts a child.”

Angel Tree adoptions fared better in Warner Robins, which had 762 children in its program. As the gift deadline approached in December, Capt. Pam Perry posted a Facebook plea for the 136 children who were still not adopted.

Soon, community members, church groups and other charities stepped up to sponsor all of those children.

“As soon as the community saw that announcement, they really went all out,” said Perry, of The Salvation Army in Warner Robins. “It was incredible the last-minute response we got.”

Perry said she had not yet calculated the total donations from the red kettle campaign.

Now, the Warner Robins organization is asking for volunteers as it tries to open Café 316, a neighborhood outreach project that will be both a safe place for underprivileged teenagers and a homeless service center.

In a building on Manor Court near Commercial Circle, organizers envision a coffee shop where teenagers and young adults can gather. Eventually, it also would give homeless people a place to take a shower, do laundry and get a meal. The Salvation Army in Warner Robins does not have a homeless shelter.

“We have people who come through, who are living in the streets or in their cars,” Perry said. “This will give them a place to see a caseworker ... and do laundry or get a shower.”

But first, the organization needs volunteers. Perry initially wants to open Café 316 two or three evenings a week, which would require at least two people to volunteer four hours each of those days, she said.

“The neighborhood’s going to have to come together to make it happen,” she said.

In Macon, Steele is concentrating on building up the budget as the year kicks off. The organization needs to raise more money by the summer, when donations generally plunge due to vacations, forcing The Salvation Army to dip into its reserve fund.

Similarly, many people withheld donations this year as they struggled to afford Christmas gifts for their own children. The economy continues to be the biggest hurdle for The Salvation Army, Steele said.

“A lot of people who were dropping (money) into our kettles before were on our list to be assisted this year,” she said. “Everything all around seems to be down.”

For more information or to make a donation, contact The Salvation Army at 746-8572.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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